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Editorial Negra: Chilean pocket poetry echoing in New York City

Daniel Wang @dwangphoto

By Arelis Uribe

In early 2019, I was at a crossroads moment in my life: living in Chile and recently recieving a scholarship to move to NYC within six months, however, this amazing gift was preventing me of finding a regular job in my hometown. Excited about the future but desperately unemployed, an idea occurred to me: creating art. Particularly, making up zines.

I'd heard about zines before—some friends I met in college printed their own drawings and poems, and photocopied them, merely for spreading creativity. After graduation, I started work as a journalist and author and later on I published my debut in fiction “Quiltras,” a collection of stories that has been highly praised by critics in Chile and abroad. Thus, once I was invited to host a writing course, which finished with a zines workshop where I learned how to make the classic one-page format.

Thereby, jobless in 2019 I fancied: What if I make and sell zines?

Since I couldn't think of anything new to write, I picked my favorite tweets. Are you on Twitter? It's microblogging on social media, and back in 2019 only 140 characters per tweet were permitted. I used every tweet as a verse, arranged them by topics—love, friendship, drugs, politics, feminism—and made up what I called "poetweets." Illustrations by Sofía Flores were added through friendly collaboration, and Vicenta Mendoza designed it as a one-page zine. I titled the piece "Cosas que pienso mientras fumo marihuana" (Things I Think When I Smoke Weed) for sounded funny to me and by then I used to be such a pothead. I'm rehabbed now.

Long story short: I printed a thousand copies, and sold them all out.

I paid my bills and went off to New York.

After landing in the big city, I restarted the project, this time founding a pocket poetry imprint: Editorial Negra. Allison Braden and Patricio Baeza translated my poems into English. I visited Endless Editions (a risograph studio in midtown, nearby The New York Times) and printed a thousand zines again, both in English and Spanish.

Afterward, I published another title "Everything Fits Harmoniously Into Everything Else," pocket poetry by Hernán Miranda. He's a Chilean poet born in 1941, who was my professor at Journalism School. I've always been fond of his oeuvre, so wanted to spread it among New Yorkers. Same story: I picked my favorite poems by him, Allison Braden translated them from Spanish, Jenny Frias aka Siempre Gótica drew the illustrations, and Maritza Piña designed it. A thousand copies were printed in fluor pink risograph at Endless Editions.

That was September 2019. One month later, Chile started burning all down.

On October 18th, 2019, the Chilean people rose up against a system that has privatized social rights and divided the country into a rich privileged class and an impoverished working class. Whole families went onto the streets to protest. The government's response was police brutality. Cops shot directly into the population’s eyes. Now there are hundreds of half or completely blind citizens by the Chilean state. I'd recently moved to NYC, witnessing all this on social media or in the news. 

Devastated by the idea of being away from home and safe from bullets, I used art as my weapon and contribution to the revolution: Editorial Negra made an open call for poetry regarding the Chilean uprising, and blissfully we’d got more than a hundred manuscripts.

Authors Macarena Araya and Francisca Molina helped out in selecting the pieces for the zine. I wished to include as many poems as I could, so repeated the technique used for my own zine: I picked my favorite verses by different authors and shaped them into collective poems. This congregated style also sounded like a metaphor for revolution to me: something we hold up together. Later I learned this artistry is known as "centón" in the Hispanic literary tradition.

Last, the same team was assembled: translator Allison Braden, illustrator and designer Maritza Piña. A thousand units of “Nuestro Fuego” / “Our Fire” were printed in Endless Editions, two hundred of them were gifted for free in Santiago de Chile.

Now, I'm an art book-maker. I go to fair upon fair selling my zines. Still pay my bills.

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